Science doesn’t support idea that marijuana aids athletes’ performance


By Matt Richtel

When Sha’Carri Richardson was barred from the Olympics this month after testing constructive for marijuana, it ignited an ongoing dialog about whether or not the drug needs to be labeled as performance-enhancing for athletes. Does getting excessive actually enhance energy, velocity, agility or different outcomes?

In Richardson’s case, the reply doesn’t matter, as a result of marijuana can be prohibited, as enforcement organizations assert that it might hurt athletes and that its use violates the spirit of the video games. Her ban stands whether or not or not the drug is performance-enhancing.

Marijuana was added to the listing of banned substances after a Canadian gold medalist had examined constructive for the drug in 1998. Shortly after, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy put out a paper explaining that the medal “seemed to directly undercut our messages to young people that drug use undermines a child’s opportunities for success.”

Still, the query of the drug’s affect on athletic capacity additionally performs an element in its placement on the listing, and the World Anti-Doping Agency has mentioned that one of many three causes it has banned hashish is as a result of the drug can improve performance. As signatories to the WADA code, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee comply with its guidelines.

But the idea that marijuana improves performance will not be supported by science. To the opposite, the proof is inconclusive at greatest, whereas an outline of the analysis concludes that marijuana hinders performance by decreasing stamina and peak performance whereas rising coronary heart and respiration charges.

An in depth examination of the scientific literature reveals a further wrinkle: In justifying its ban on the drug, WADA, which units the coverage for drug prohibition, has overstated anecdotal and speculative proof, consultants mentioned.

In 2011, two WADA scientists and an adviser wrote a paper that is extensively cited as representing WADA’s argument that marijuana needs to be prohibited as a result of it might improve performance. But some consultants query the paper’s accuracy.

“The ‘evidence’ is extraordinarily weak, at least as far as this paper goes,” mentioned Margaret Haney, a professor of neurobiology at Columbia University, the place she is director of the Cannabis Research Laboratory. Haney mentioned that the broader physique of analysis — going past the essential 2011 paper — additionally didn’t support the claims. Marijuana, she mentioned, “reduces reaction time and has other effects that would worsen performance.”

In 2020, two impartial papers checked out current analysis into the query of whether or not the drug improves performance. The research reached associated conclusions: that the proof doesn’t support that idea.

One examine concluded that the drug “does not act as a sport performance enhancing agent as raised by popular beliefs.”

It added, “Thus, cannabis consumption prior to exercise should be avoided in order to maximize performance in sports.”

A spokesperson for WADA, Jon Fitzgerald, mentioned that WADA “consults with all stakeholders in relation to substances or methods that perhaps should be added or removed,” and he added that “throughout this time, the U.S. has been consistent in its strongly held position that WADA should keep cannabis on the List.”

Fitzgerald mentioned that the WADA authors “stand by” the 2011 scientific evaluation, printed within the journal Sports Medicine, that seems to be expansively on the results of marijuana use on athletes. One part is dedicated to the drug’s potential to reinforce performance and attracts on a handful of earlier scientific research to support that chance.

Experts say the WADA evaluation goes past what the sooner papers truly acknowledged.

In one instance, the 2011 evaluation misstates the place expressed by a scientist named Jon Wagner in his 1989 paper titled “Abuse of Drugs Used to Enhance Athletic Performance.” The WADA paper asserts that Wagner “described cannabis as ergogenic,” that means performance-enhancing. Wagner, a former assistant professor on the University of Nebraska who now works within the biotech trade, disagreed.

“I didn’t write that,” Wagner mentioned in an interview. In the paper, he wrote that marijuana doesn’t enhance “vital capacity” or grip energy and that if marijuana helped in any respect, it could be by serving to an athlete chill out. In an interview, he mentioned he had taken that final idea from anecdotal conversations with tennis gamers.

“That’s just it,” Wagner mentioned. “People simply speaking.

“That was like a throwaway line,” he added. “I didn’t imagine it would have an impact in the world of Olympics.”

Fitzgerald countered that Wagner’s anecdotal proof match the that means of “ergogenic.”

The WADA examine additionally cites the authors of a 1996 paper, titled “Performance-Enhancing Drugs, Fair Competition, and Olympic Sport,” as making the declare that “cannabis could be performance enhancing in sports that require greater concentration.”

In truth, the authors of the sooner paper took no place on whether or not marijuana is performance-enhancing and provided no scientific proof that would support that place. Rather, they wrote that one argument holds that marijuana decreases performance, whereas “some argue that it might enhance performance in sports that require great concentration.”

Fitzgerald mentioned that the WADA scientists had “exactly” quoted from the 1996 paper.

In one other instance, the 2011 WADA paper cites a examine of 12 cyclists who carried out extra poorly after utilizing cannabinoids. But the 2011 authors observe that the bike owner examine additionally provided proof that marijuana may very well be performance-enhancing by “suggesting that cannabis could also improve oxygenation to the tissue.”

Haney, from Columbia, mentioned that such a bit of proof didn’t make it clear that marijuana was performance-enhancing.

“That’s just supposition,” she mentioned. She added that the examine of cyclists had illustrated a bigger level: “It worsened performance!”

Roger Pielke Jr., an professional in sports activities governance and a professor of environmental research on the University of Colorado Boulder, mentioned that he had regarded on the 2011 paper and had discovered it problematic and an instance of “anti-doping theater.”

He additionally known as it “policy-based science,” during which the choice to ban a drug is made earlier than the science is clearly established.

Also crucial of the WADA place is Jeff Novitzky, senior vice chairman of athlete well being and performance for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which falls beneath the governance of WADA and USADA.

Novitzky mentioned he had heard UFC and blended martial arts rivals joke that they might be comfortable if a competitor have been stoned as a result of it could sluggish response time and provides a bonus to an opponent. Novitzky mentioned that the issue with WADA’s poor scientific justification was that it may jeopardize athletes’ careers.

“If you’re taking away the ability for a human being to earn a living, you better be 1,000% sure,” he mentioned.

He added that WADA’s determination to give attention to performance enhancement was not trivial as a result of it’s one in every of solely three standards concerned in banning a drug.

A principal line of considering stemming from the 2011 paper and different literature is theory that the performance-enhancing capacities of hashish come from the drug’s capability to chill out individuals. Experts mentioned it was undoubtedly true that marijuana may chill out some individuals, however with a aspect impact of hindering performance.

One problem in reaching conclusions in regards to the affect of marijuana on performance or well being is that, traditionally, the drug has not been topic to rigorous examine. That is partly as a result of it’s thought of a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S. authorities, linking it with harmful, ceaselessly abused medication and limiting its availability for analysis.

Still, Novitzky, from the UFC, mentioned he had spoken with many athletes who used marijuana for ache administration, sleep and leisure. But he mentioned the athletes had advised him that they recurrently stopped utilizing it weeks earlier than a battle.

Novitzky argued that the query shouldn’t be whether or not an athlete had examined constructive for marijuana — as a result of the drug can keep within the system for weeks — however whether or not an athlete was impaired and risked being harm.

Haney mentioned that “people certainly use alcohol to decrease anxiety” and that if WADA considers hashish performance-enhancing as a result of it decreases anxiousness, that would even be “inconsistent with alcohol.”


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